Bowling Green’s freshmen have played major roles in the team’s success this season.
The first-year players followed the regular season with an impressive performance in the first round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.
The Falcons finished a sweep of their best of 3 quarterfinal series against Northern Michigan Saturday night with a 3-1 win in the Ice Arena.
Freshmen forwards Tyler Spezia and Brandon Hawkins each had two goals in the series, and Mitch McLain scored once. They combined for 25 shots and an on-ice rating of plus-6. Spezia scored in overtime Friday to give the Falcons a 3-2 win in Game 1.
Classmates Mark Friedman and Nolan Valleau played a regular shift on defense as BG allowed just three goals in the series. They combined for 14 shots and were a plus-1 in the series.
The freshmen also have contributed to BG’s power-play and penalty-killing units throughout the season.
Forwards Brett D’Andrea and Jakob Reichert each played one game in the series.
Freshman goalie Chris Nell didn’t play, but he has 2.32 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage in 13 games this season.
Freshman defenseman Braden Pears and forward Ben Greiner also have played this season, but didn’t play against NMU this weekend.
The freshmen are older, approaching their 21st birthday, following two seasons of junior hockey.
“They’ve been put in good situations since Day 1,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “They’re all contributing. They’re all guys who have been big contributors from the day they’ve been here. It says a whole lot for those guys.”
The Falcons, ranked 13th nationally and 23-10-5 overall, face fourth-ranked and WCHA regular season runnerup Michigan Tech (28-8-2) in a semifinal Friday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. Faceoff is 5:07 p.m.
“What I like is the bar continues to get set,” Bergeron said. “This is what they expect now. They expect to play at home in the playoffs. You expect to win in the playoffs. That, to me, is good stuff because it means the future looks good.”
McLain didn’t play Saturday, the result of a hard hit into the boards in overtime during Friday.
Bergeron said McLain’s status is day-to-day, pending further evaluation.
The Falcons will take Monday off and then have three days of practice before playing Tech.
“There was discussion of him playing tonight,” Bergeron said. “We just didn’t know if he could protect himself, and we weren’t going to put him in that position. We had healthy bodies.”